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Workplace Q & A
 
Dealing with Gossip
 
We have a Gossip in Our Organization Who is Very Good.
 
So good, that people seem to be unaware of her methods. She uses innuendoes, hints, references, and associations to make people look bad. Every conversation with her leaves me with a bad impression of whomever she was talking about. She is so clever about it by not being direct, but very indirect.
 
She also is afraid for there to be any relationships without her, so she will interrupt any chance she gets if you are talking to someone. I believe she does that so that people will not find out all the lies that she has spread. She takes the truth and twists it a little, so it is very hard to pinpoint or nail her down.
 
I tried once to "nail her down" when she took one event of my co-worker and claimed that it happens all the time by changing a word from singular to plural. It seems as though people are so naive that this type of person can exist and people don't seem to recognize it. I am worried because I have ran into several people like this during the past year.
 
I have talked to my boss and told her the same thing that I have just told you, aware that I would be penalized. I didn't think I had anything to lose because I was going to turn in my notice anyway. How do I deal with this type of person?
 
     Signed "Dealing with Gossip"
 
 
Dear Dealing with Gossip,
 
You have described one of the more frustrating events in the workplace! To answer your question, let's start with why a person would be a "poop stirrer." You have described someone who appears to suffer from low self-esteem. The office gossip or "poop stirrer" is usually one who feels on some level very powerless.
 
What can make a person powerful? When she (or he) has "information" which others may not have. If this person seems to always be in the know about things going on in the office, there is a greater tendency for others to seek her out for the latest tidbit. This gives the "poop stirrer" the sense of power which she wants and needs, but is unable to get in a legitimate manner.
 
In addition, you have described a person who hints or makes innuendoes, that suggests that she is not even confident enough to make a firm stance on the information being shared. This is also a method of baiting another person. If I toss the line out there with the bait on it and you nibble on it, I know that I have a potential "fish on the line." Also, if I am real lucky, you will take the bait and run with it, and I will then have you "hooked". Either way, I am safe. If you choose not to nibble on the illusory tidbit, I have not exposed myself or my information to you.
 
You can effectively deal with people like the person you have described in only one way, and that is in a very direct manner. If you let her know that you are not interested in engaging in harmful conversations about another person, she will leave you alone. In addition, when she is talking with you in a vague manner, insist that she clarifies what she is saying to you. For example... "I am unclear as to what you are saying, can you be more specific?" or "Tell me what you mean by that" or "You used the plural when you described that incident, how many times and when did they occur. If you and your co-workers use this technique consistently, "Ms. Vagueness" will get the message clearly that you will not accept her statements as fact and at face value. This will discourage her from being vague, because she knows that she will have to explain further. Please note: the most effective way to deal with this situation is to firmly, but politely, tell her that you do not want to hear gossip or harmful information.
 
There is one other method that can work very effectively, and that is a group discussion about how people feel about gossip or being the subject to this "destructive and non-productive" talk. The purpose of this meeting is not to "slam dunk" this person, but to let her know that the group as a whole is not going to participate in this destructive past-time.
 
In terms of how she is perceived by others, I would suggest that some of your co-workers feel as you do, but may be afraid to voice their concerns. If they are aware of what she is doing, they should be reminded that when some tidbit is brought by the gossip, some tidbit is also taken away. Therefore, lest you be falsely accused or misquoted by the gossip, it is best to remain neutral with her and not participate in the "info-exchange."
 
Being direct with this person and letting her know what your thoughts are may not make you fast friends, but, then again, why would you want to be-friend a person like this anyway? You may be the next subject of her gossip feast, but words have never harmed a person who is clear about "who she is" and conducts herself in an appropriate manner. I can say that your discomfort may not completely cease, but how much and how long you hold on to it is up to you.
 
I would offer this suggestion to you, visualize this person as a lonely and scared little girl who does not know how to ask for and receive what she wants so desperately... acceptance. It you and your peers are willing to provide her with the opportunity to turn things around, you can do so by engaging her in a conversation and complimenting her on things (for which she could legitimately complimented). When she begins to gossip again, remind her that you don't want to engage in that type of discussion and change the subject. Perhaps she will begin to understand that she can gain acceptance and respect without having to gossip.
 
In summary, a flower can not grow in soil that is not right for it. If you and your co-workers allow this type of behavior to continue without addressing and correcting it, you have contributed to creating fertile ground in which this person's negative trait can grow and flourish. I have included a little poem about gossip. I found it to be very helpful and in fact shared it with a former co-worker who was the office gossip and "poop stirrer."
 
Good luck and let me hear from you...
 
Smiles, Mary Rau-Foster
 
 
Nobody’s Friend
 
My name is Gossip.
 
I have no respect for justice.
 
I maim without killing.
 
I break hearts and ruin lives.
 
I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age.
 
The more I am quoted the more I am believed.
 
My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face.
 
To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become.
 
I am nobody’s friend.
 
Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same.
 
I topple governments and wreck marriages.
 
I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights, heartaches and indigestion. I make innocent people cry in their pillows.
 
Even my name hisses. I am called Gossip.
 
I make headlines and headaches.
 
Before you repeat a story, ask yourself:
    Is it true?
    Is it harmless?
    Is it necessary?
    If it isn’t, don’t repeat it.
 
~ Author Unknown
 
 
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